Sapium sebiferum (Chinese tallow tree)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Wood Products
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb.
Preferred Common Name
- Chinese tallow tree
Other Scientific Names
- Croton sebiferum L.
- Excoecaria sebifera
- Stillingia sebifera (L.) Michx.
- Triadica sebifera (L.) Small
- Triadica sinensis
- Tridica sebifera (L.) Small
International Common Names
- English: chicken tree; Chinese tallowtree; Florida aspen; popcorn tree; vegetable tallow; white wax berry
- Spanish: arbol del sebo
- French: arbre à suif; arbre savon; glutier
- Chinese: wujiu
Local Common Names
- Brazil: pau-do-sebo
- Germany: Chinesischer Talgbaum
- Italy: albero del sapone
- Japan: Nankin haze
- SAQSE (Sapium sebiferum)
- Chinese tallow tree
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page Rapid growth, precocious and prolific seeding, adaptability to a wide variety of soil conditions, tolerance of both drought, flooding and a degree of salinity, effective dispersal of seeds by avian vectors and water and a high germination rate contribute to the invasiveness of this species. It is declared noxious in several US states where it is a serious invasive in natural areas. Binggeli (1999) regards this species as highly invasive.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Euphorbiales
- Family: Euphorbiaceae
- Genus: Sapium
- Species: Sapium sebiferum
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page The genus Sapium is in the family Euphorbiaceae (subfam. Euphorbioideae, tribe Hippomaneae, subtribe Hippomaninae), containing about ten species depending on the generic limits applied. There remains taxonomic confusion at the generic level between Sapium and Triadica. S. sebiferum has a number of synonyms, and some, such as Triadica sebifera (or T. sebiferum, the genus sometimes mispelled as Tridica, e.g. Anon, 2001) are still used today. The specific name 'sebiferum' means wax-bearing (Rice, 2002), relating to the use of the seeds as a source of vegetable tallow.
DescriptionTop of page S. sebiferum is a small, deciduous tree to 16 m tall and exudes a milky sap common with members of the Euphorbiaceae. The leaves are simple, alternate, broadly ovate, 3-6 cm wide, with blades entire, broadly rounded bases and taper to a slender point. The flowers are small, yellow, on spikes, up to 20 cm long with 2-3 sepals, stamens or styles. The fruit is a 3-lobed capsule approximately 1 cm in diameter, brown when ripe, and splits to show three dull white seeds (Langeland and Burks, 1998).
Plant TypeTop of page Broadleaved
DistributionTop of page S. sebiferum is native to the southern half of both China and Japan, between 18°N and 35°N.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|-Hunan||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Wang et al., 1991|
|-Zhejiang||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Li, 1961|
|Georgia (Republic of)||Present||Introduced||Planted|
|India||Present||Introduced||Bruce and et al. , 1997|
|Pakistan||Present||Introduced||Planted||Bruce and et al. , 1997|
|Taiwan||Present||Native||Invasive||Liu, 1962; Holm and et al. , 1979; Bruce and et al. , 1997|
|Sudan||Present||Introduced||Bruce and et al. , 1997|
|USA||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Alabama||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-Arkansas||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-Florida||Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Anon, 2003b; Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-Georgia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-Hawaii||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||1920s||Not invasive||Siemann and Rogers, 2003||May be kept in check by the herbivorous beetle Adoretus sinicus.|
|-Louisiana||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Cronk and Fuller , 1995; Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-North Carolina||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-South Carolina||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Cronk and Fuller , 1995; Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-Texas||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Westbrooks , 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2004|
Central America and Caribbean
|Martinique||Present||Introduced||Bruce and et al. , 1997|
|Australia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Christman , 1999|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page S. sebiferum has been introduced to a number of continents outside its native Asia. Bruce et al. (1997) summarize reports of its naturalization in parts of Japan, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, central and southern Europe, Martinique, and the Sudan. In North America, some authorities claim that Benjamin Franklin brought this species to the USA in 1776 (Christman, 1999). It is invading the southeastern states of the USA (Cronk and Fuller, 1995), and Westbrooks (1998) reports large areas between Texas and the Carolinas that have been invaded. S. sepium had escaped into the wild in Louisiana in the 1940s and has been recognized as a pest in the North and South Carolina since the 1970s (Anon, 2001). It is now declared a noxious weed in Louisiana and Florida (USDA-NRCS, 2004), is naturalized in 57% of Florida's counties (Langeland and Burks, 1998) and is a 'red alert' species in California where it has recently discovered in the wild (CE-PPC, 1999). Despite the problems it has caused in the USA, it is still traded commercially in many areas (Anon, 2001). It is present on Bermuda but it is not considered invasive there at present (De Silva, Bermuda Zoological Society, personal communication, 2002). Christman (1999) reports that S. sebiferum is also a weed in Australia.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page Great caution should be exercised over the introduction of this species to areas which are climatically and environmentally similar to those where it has become invasive. The experience in the USA has been that it is extremely difficult to eliminate this plant once it has become established in the wild.
HabitatTop of page Invaded habitat in the USA includes tallgrass prairie, wetlands, swamps, forests and disturbed areas (Westbrooks, 1998). CE-PPC (1999) report it from open areas, riparian systems and understorey habitats in California; and it is observed to invade closed-canopy and bottomland hardwood forests, and it is considered a serious threat to aquatic and upland habitats in Florida (Anon, 2003b). It is also the most common woody species in the chenier woodlands of Louisiana (anon, 2001), and SE-EPPC (2003) note that establishment can occur on both disturbed and undisturbed sites.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page Genetics
SE-EPPC (2003) report a high level of genetic diversity in S. sebiferum.
Physiology and Phenology
In the USA, the growing season begins in February and S. sapium flowers between March and May. Fruit is available between August and November and the leaves are dropped in the autumn (Anon, 2003). It is a precociuos species, observers in the USA having recorded flowering within nine months of seed germination (Westbrooks, 1998). More generally S. sebiferum reaches maturity between the ages of three and five years, and although with a life span of 20 years generally, it may live for 100 years (Anon, 2001).
There is a monoecious flowering system. A production of 100,000 seeds per tree is typical in the USA (Anon, 2003a). The seeds remain on the tree for some time after the leaves have fallen and are capable of remaining viable for years, and a high proportion of the seeds produce seedlings (Anon, 2001).
Mean annual temperatures for S. sebiferum are often in the range 15-22°C, though it will tolerate cold winters with a mean minimum temperature of the coolest month of 0oC, and an absolute minimum of -19°C. S. sebiferum prefers a mean annual rainfall of 700-2800 mm, although the formation of a taproot allows this species to tolerate extended drought (Anon, 2003a), with dry seasons of up to 5 months duration. The species grows well on a wide range of soils and will tolerate degraded, saline or moist land. It also tolerates flooding and saltwater (SE-EPPC, 2003). It is found at a range of altitudes from sea level up to 2800 m.
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-19|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||15||22|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||25||30|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||0||8|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||2||5||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||700||2800||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Summer
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page Where introduced in the USA, there are notably few pathogens (Anon, 2001) or insect pests (Anon, 2003a) that attack S. sebiferum. However, Anon (2001) report a number of fungi that will grow on S. sebiferum, including Cercospera stillingiae, Clitocybe tabescens, Dendrophthoe falcate, Phyllactina corylea, Phyllosticta stillingiae and Phymatotrichum omnivorum.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page Seeds that fall into water can float to new locations (Anon, 2003a), but birds appear to be the main dispersal agents. In Florida, USA, pileated woodpeckers (Anon, 2003a) and boat-tailed grackles also eat and disperse the seeds (Jubinsky and Anderson, 1996). The intentional introduction of this species into the USA has led to serious invasion events in several states, originally planted in southeastern coastal areas to underpin a soap and vegetable tallow industry (Anon, 2001).
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page No precise information is available but the control of S. sebiferum is very expensive owing to its ability to resprout if the aboveground vegetation is killed and its high rate of reproduction and dispersal.
Environmental ImpactTop of page When the leaves fall into rivers and lakes, they decay and the nutrient status is changed, with significant increases in phosphorus, potassium, nitrates, zinc, manganese and iron (Anon, 2003). Magnesium and sodium may be significantly lower in S. sebiferum woodland than in indigenous prairie (Bruce et al., 1997). Further disadvantages are the release of tannins into the ecosystem and increased eutrophication rates, though it is uncertain whether there are any allelopathic effects (Rice, 2002).
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page Dense, single species stands formed by this fast growing species displace other vegetation in where S. sebiferum has become invasive, impacting on native flora as in Florida (Anon, 2003b). There are impact also on fauna, as the tree provides little food for native herbivores except for birds which disperse the seed (Anon, 2003a). S. sebiferum is capable of changing the course of natural succession processes so that habitats such as marsh and prairie are converted into woodland, with serious consequences for resident and migratory fauna (Anon, 2001).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts human health
- Negatively impacts animal health
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page It is a valuable multipurpose, agroforestry species in the central Himalayan region and is also a popular ornamental tree in many countries, particularly in the southeastern USA. Its seeds are a valuable source of vegetable tallow and kernel oil, known as 'stillingia', used in the manufacture of soaps, paints and in the food industry. Its wood is used for fuel and for making various implements. It has been widely planted as a shade tree and ornamental (Christman, 1999).
Uses ListTop of page
- Shade and shelter
- Soil improvement
- Miscellaneous fuels
Human food and beverage
- Essential oils
Wood ProductsTop of page
Sawn or hewn building timbers
- Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
- For heavy construction
- For light construction
- Wall panelling
Prevention and ControlTop of page Cultural Control
Grazing or flooding are not management options for controlling S. sebiferum due to the toxicity of foliage to cattle and the plant's tolerance of waterlogging (Rice, 2002).
Seedlings can be effectively removed by hand, as long as the entire root is removed (SE-EPPC, 2003), but cutting of mature plants requires herbicide stump treatment because of suckering (Anon, 2001). Both stumps and roots are able to resprout after damage. The best time to cut plants is after they have come into flower but before they have produced seed as this has an immediate effect on the dispersal of seed (SE-EPPC, 2003). Girdling can be used for small groups of large trees but is not appropriate for large numbers of individuals because of the effort required in applying follow up treatments to control resprouting (SE-EPPC, 2003). In parts of Texas, farmers remove S. sebiferum trees with bulldozers, disk the soil and sow with pasture grasses, but the use of heavy equipment is not generally recommended because of the disturbance to soils and non-target vegetation (Bruce et al., 1997).
Systemic herbicides such as trichlopyr may be used as a basal application against mature S. sebiferum trees at any time of year, and trichlopyr or imazapyr are recommended for the treatment of cut stems (Anon, 2001). Spring applications of herbicide are beneficial because they may reduce seed dispersal, though other studies claim translocation of the herbicide through the plant is more effective in late summer and autumn (see Rice, 2002). Direct foliar applications of glyphosate and triclopyr are appropriate for monospecific groupings of seedlings (SE-EPPC, 2003).
There are no biological control agents at present (Rice, 2002), although Anon (2003a identify a number of pathogens that attack S. sebiferum, and the USDA are reported to consider that insect biological control may be worthy of investigation in the future (SE-EPPC, 2003).
ReferencesTop of page
Anon, 2001. Louisiana Invasive Plants, Species: Tridica sebifera (L.) Small. Louisiana State Univerity, AgCenter. http://www.lsuagcenter.com/invasive/chinesetallow.asp.
Anon, 2003. Invasive Alien Plant Species in Virginia. Boyce, USA: Virginia Native Plant Society. http://www.vnps.org/complete_list.html.
Anon, 2003. Weed Alert Chinese Tallow Sapium sebiferum. Tallahassee, USA: Florida Department of Environmental Protection. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/invaspec/2ndlevpgs/pdfs/ChineseTallow.pdf.
Anon., 1976. Silviculture of Chinese Tallow Tree. Beijing, China: China Agriculture Press.
Bruce KA; Cameron GN; Harcombe PA; Jubinsky G, 1997. Introduction, impact on native habitats, and management of a woody invader, the Chinese tallow tree, Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb. Natural Areas Journal, 17(3):255-260; 53 ref.
Cai DX, 1978. Effects of different sowing densities on Chinese tallow tree seedling quality. Subtropical Forest Science and Technology, 4:23-25.
CE-PPC, 1999. Exotic pest plant list. USA: California Exotic Pest Plant Council. http://www.caleppc.org/info/plantlist.html.
Christman S, 1999. Sapium sebiferum. http://www/floridata.com/ref/S/sapi_seb.cfm.
Khan FW; Khan K; Malik MN, 1973. Vegetable tallow and stillingia oil from the fruits of Sapium sebiferum Roxb. Pakistan Journal of Forestry, 23(3):257-266; 16 ref.
Langeland KA; Burks KC, 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. Gainesville, Florida, USA: University of Florida, 165 pp.
Li G, 1961. Species and varieties of Chinese tallow tree and their biological characteristics in Zhejiang Province. Zhejiang Agricultural Science, 6:6-13.
Li SG, 1956. Plants of Genus Sapium. Acta Phyto Sinica, 5(2):14-18.
Liu L; Sun CJ, 1986. Main Economic Trees of China. Jiangsu Science and Technology Press.
Liu TS, 1962. Illustrations of Native and Introduced Ligneous Plants of Taiwan. Taipei, Taiwan: National Taiwan University Press, 301.
Rice B, 2002. Weed Alert! Sapium sebiferum (syn. Triadica sinensis) (Chinese Tallowtree, Florida Aspen, Popcorn Tree). The Nature Conservancy, Wildland Invasive Species Team. http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/alert/alrtsapi.html.
SE-EPPC, 2003. Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual. Chinese Tallowtree. http://www.invasive.org/eastern/eppc/SASE.html.
Si GS; Li ZJ, 1988. Studies on interplanting between tea and chinese tallow tree. J, of Zhejiang Forestry College, 5(2):115-122.
Siemann E; Rogers WE, 2003. Increased competitive ability of an invasive tree may be limited by an invasive beetle. Ecological Applications, 13:1503-1507.
Sosef MSM; Hong LT; Prawirohatmodjo S; eds, 1998. Plant resources of southeast Asia. Timber trees: lesser-known timbers. Leiden, The Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers, 5(3).
Tong L, 1975. A new propagation method of Chinese tallow tree: cut rooting. Plants, 4:30-32.
Tong QY, 1987. Review on silviculture practices for high yielding chinese tallow tree plantations. Zhejiang Forest Science and Technology, 7(1):6-10.
USDA-NRCS, 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5. Baton Rouge, USA: National Plant Data Center. http://plants.usda.gov.
Wang SY; Qi CJ; Li ZK, 1991. Forestry in Hunan Province. Hunan, China: Hunan Science and Technology Press.
Westbrooks RG, 1998. Invasive plants, changing the landscape of America: Fact book. Washington DC, USA: Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW), 109 pp.
Wu ZY, 1984. Index Florae Yunnanensis. Yunnan, China: People's Publishing House.
Wu ZY, 1984. Index Florae Yunnanensis. Yunnan, China: The People's Publishing House.
Xu JS; Chikashige T; Meguro S; Kawachi S, 1991. Effective utilization of stillingia or Chinese tallow-tree (Sapium sebiferum) fruits. Mokuzai Gakkaishi - Journal of the Japan Wood Research Society, 37(5):494-498.
Xu YQ, 1976. Major economic tree species in south China. Beijing, China: Agriculture Press.
Zhang KD; Lin YT, 1994. Chinese Tallow Tree. Beijing, China: China Forestry Publishing House.
Zheng WJ, 1978. Silvicultural techniques of major tree species in China. Beijing, China: Chinese Agriculture Publishing House, Vol. 2.
Distribution MapsTop of page
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